Education is central to the Jesuit apostolate and its reason may be found in the life and message of St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus and the patron saint of Loyola School.
Born in the ancestral castle of Loyola in the Basque province of Spain in 1491, St Ignatius began his career as a trainee for knighthood in the court of 'Ferdinand the Catholic' and became an officer in the army in 1517. He was badly wounded by a French cannonball while defending the citadel of Pamplona in 1521. The lives of the saints that he read during his convalescence gave his life a spiritual orientation.
No longer was this flamboyant Spaniard interested in military victory or worldly glory: he resolved to imitate the holy austerities of the saints and to be a servant of God. In 1522 he bade farewell to his family and set out on a penitential pilgrimage and, travelling by way of Rome, Venice and Cyprus, reached Jerusalem in 1523 and returned to Barcelona next year.
Had St Ignatius so desired, he could have become a priest in a few years. But his military career had taught him the value of discipline and rigorous preparation. So, at an age when most men stop their training, he chose to resume his studies for the next twelve years in order to be more worthy in his priestly vocation..
After two years of study in Barcelona, he reached Paris in 1528 and, living on alms, remained there as a student till 1535 and completed his postgraduate studies at the Collège de Sainte-Barbe. He was ordained at the age of forty-six, on 24 June 1537.
While studying in France, St Ignatius had gathered about him a few companions, including St Francis Xavier, who later became the co-founders of the Jesuit order. Three years before their ordination they had voluntarily bound themselves by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, though without the express purpose of founding any new religious order. The last phase of Loyola’s life was spent in Rome or its vicinity. In 1539 the companions decided to form the Society of Jesus and added the vow of obedience to the elected Superior. In 1540 Pope Paul III approved the new Jesuit order and St Ignatius served as its elected General till his death on 31 July 1556. He was beatified in 1609 and, along with Francis Xavier, canonized on 12 March 1662.
At the time of the founder’s death, there were about 1000 Jesuits working in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, Brazil and India. At present, there are about 18,000 Jesuits serving all over the world. About one-fourth of them are teachers or administrators in the 848 educational institutions spread across 68 countries. There are about 2.5 million students studying in these institutions that range from pre-primary schools to fully-fledged universities.
The history of the Jesuits’ educational mission in India begins with St Francis Xavier’s arrival on 6 May 1542 and the founding of schools and colleges in Goa and Cochin shortly afterwards. A number of premier institutions in India have been inspired by his memory.